staying safe in parking areas tips for women

Be Victim-Proof: Seven Tips for Staying Safe in Parking Areas

Ah, your friendly neighborhood mall parking lot. Who among us hasn’t experienced the joys of circling for endless minutes looking for an empty space? How long has it been since you managed to avoid acquiring new dents in your doors? When was the last time you were cut off by a clueless fellow driver?

Yes, parking lots can be huge sources of frustration. And now we’ve got something else to add to the list of grievances:

Parking lots are a predator’s playground.

In fact, I’m writing this blog because I came across a few sobering statistics this week. In America, a woman is assaulted every 107 seconds. And of these assaults, 25{5b94df0808d5051ae4460ba229ec68b809d99f898aebd4fa5019c7ba642362c2} take place in parking areas and other public places.

This has got to stop.

While we can’t control the behavior of the bad guys, we can control our own actions. Let’s be clear: a woman is never at fault if she is attacked. But a woman can definitely do things to lessen the likelihood of becoming a victim. Here are my top suggestions.

Location, location, location

empty parking lot

Well-lit parking. Creepy…but well-lit.

Start with the basics: park in a well-lit area. Ideally, it’ll be close to your destination’s entrance, but the point is to make sure you have good visibility. You want to make it easy to look at your surroundings, and you also want to make it easy for others to see YOU. An assailant is far less likely to attempt an abduction if he can’t accomplish it in the shadows.

It’s also best to keep your car away from shrubbery and other hiding places. And if you see a panel van next to an empty parking space? Yeah, it’s cliché, but it’s cliché for a reason! Find another spot so that you don’t have to exit your car next to a potential ManCave on wheels.

And lastly: note your location. This can be a major problem in large parking garages. Either take a picture with your phone of the floor and row number, or go old school and jot it down with pencil and paper. Wandering around looking for your car means you’ll be distracted, which makes you much more attractive as potential prey.

Timing, timing, timing

woman wristwatch

Timing, my dear, is everything.

Take advantage of daylight hours to run your errands. Not only will you have much better visibility, but you’ll also have more people in the area. Yeah, there are lots more parking places available in the evening, but there are concomitantly lots fewer people in parking lots and garages. There is truth to the adage “safety in numbers.”

Not possible to get your errands done during the day? Then find a girl/boyfriend to tag along. You’ll get in some good social time, and you can serve as each other’s bodyguard, to boot. 🙂

Watch your six

female soldier checking her surroundings

She’s watching her 3 o’clock at the moment…but I’m sure she’ll soon check her six.

Make like Jason (Jane!) Bourne and fully take in your surroundings. Keep your head on a swivel and look all around you as you progress from car to building and back again. Yeah, you may feel like it’s overkill, but if nothing else, such intense situational awareness will certainly keep you from being surprised by a car suddenly reversing from its parking stall. It’ll also make a would-be assailant think twice about trying to catch you by surprise.

When you leave your car and return to it, pay extra close attention to your immediate area. Is there a guy sitting alone in the car next to yours? Is there a car with extra-dark window tinting? If anything looks fishy, avoid the area, either by returning to the building you just exited, or by not parking your car in your intended spot.

And do I even need to say this? Look up from your blasted smartphone!! Keep those earbuds out of your ears!! There is zero chance you’ll be fully engaged with your surroundings if you’re partially engaged with your text messages.

Walk like a badass

a woman in a cape standing confidently

Demo’ing the badass posture. Cape not required.

Keep your head up. Walk tall. Stride with purpose. Even if you’re in a somewhat sketchy area and feeling a bit nervous, by acting confident, you actually become confident! And that confidence will project outward, making you much less likely to become a victim.

If your spidey sense is tingling, heed it! We have “gut instinct” for a reason. If you park your car and just don’t feel right, leave. Very few errands in life are so important they can’t wait. And if you’re leaving a building to return to your car when your gut instinct kicks in? Simply ask for an escort (mall security, a manager at the grocery store, etc.) to walk you to your car.

For parking garages, the suggestions I’ve encountered to avoid stairwells and elevators when walking alone are—to me—not realistic. We want to stay safe, but we also need to live our lives. We’re not FRAGILE…but we do need to practice wariness. You can split the safety difference by waiting until you spot a small group entering either conveyance and then joining their gaggle.

Carry a weapon

woman carrying car keys for self defense

It’s not a Glock, but it’ll do.

I’m not suggesting you go all Dirty Harry (Harriet!), but I am suggesting you have something in your hands that you could use to defend yourself. Your keys are a good start. They’re metal and pokey. Sort of like a poorman’s brass knuckles. You can also step it up a notch and carry a small can of pepper spray (note: apparently some states have certain restrictions on pepper spray, so read up to find out details for your location).

 

Keep those doors LOCKED

Lock ’em up, ladies!

When you first arrive at your parking spot, don’t unlock the doors until you’re ready to exit the vehicle. My car has a “handy” feature wherein it unlocks all of my doors whenever I shift into Park. So as soon as I hear my locks disengage, I instantly press the automatic lock button to reengage them. This lets me stay secure in the vehicle while I follow my shutdown procedures, gather my belongings, etc.

Upon returning to your vehicle, immediately get inside and lock those doors again. If you have keyless entry, this is a really simple process; but if you have a car that requires you to use your key to unlock the door, just make sure you carry your keys in your hand so you don’t spend time fumbling in your bag before you can enter your vehicle.

Special note for those of you with kiddos in car seats: upon arriving at the vehicle, pull your kid out of the stroller, and immediately put yourself and the kid into the back seat together, locking the door behind you. THEN buckle up your progeny. If it’s hot and you need to run the air conditioner during this process, begin the process with you and your kid in the front seat together while you start the vehicle, then either clamber into the backseat directly (bonus yoga time!) or quickly exit and reenter the vehicle via the backseat, locking the door again after you’re inside. Yes, your stroller will need to remain outside during this process. 99{5b94df0808d5051ae4460ba229ec68b809d99f898aebd4fa5019c7ba642362c2} chance no one is gonna steal it…and if you’re somewhere where stealing strollers is a risk, then you want to be DOUBLY sure to follow the above procedures! Your lives are far more important than a wheeled piece of plastic. (Note to self: write future blog entry about the importance of quick-collapsing strollers that can be loaded into a vehicle with one hand!)

Quit being so gawddamn polite

a woman yells as she escapes her attacker

“FIIIIIRRRRE!”

Do not comply with the bad guy’s orders to get in his car. Keep a wary distance from anyone who asks for directions or tries to hand you a pamphlet, even if they look friendly. Do not step over to help a stranger with “car trouble.” Yeah, it’s cold behavior, but if you’re alone, it’s also smart.

If you are so unfortunate as to encounter a predator, make a scene! Yell “Fire!” (apparently this is more likely to attract passerby than yelling, “Help”), run away like a crazy person…and keep screaming! Stay in full view of passerby, and run toward a point of safety (back to the building you just left, for example). Yeah, you may feel like an idiot (especially if you’re not positive the person you’re dealing with really intends you harm), but wouldn’t you rather be a safe idiot than an assaulted etiquette-follower?

And it almost goes without saying: if a bad guy grabs you—even with a weapon—FIGHT BACK. Fight back with everything you have, girl. Your life most certainly depends on it.

* * * * *

So those are my main tips. You can step it up a notch by practicing practical preparedness, as well. Like, wear reasonable shoes you can run in, don’t carry so many packages that your hands are effectively handcuffed, etc. Ultimately, victim-proofing yourself comes down to doing your best to keep out of harm’s way in the first place. So have a plan, and be prepared to enact that plan. Every day.

Want to learn even more about to prepare yourself for emergencies?
Download my free “Emergency Preparedness for Women” guide
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